Ted Lasso is the title character of a sitcom by the same name, a fish-out-of-water story about a befuddled American trying to coach British football (soccer). Lasso provides excellent examples of the kind of social and emotional work you will do this summer as a camp counselor. Looking deeper, the series is about bringing out the best in people, highlighting their strengths, helping them move beyond setbacks, and uniting them into a cohesive team. That sounds like camp.
It also sounds like what some of the best educators do. At camp this summer, you will be doing a lot of teaching. You will show campers how check-in works, how to be in a group, how to do favorite camp activities, and how not to give up.
Ted Lasso exemplifies someone who is always teaching. He models empathy and caring as a leader, using optimism and kindness to bring his team together. Whether you are a Season 1 Ted Lasso, a first-time camp counselor who still feels like a fish out of water, or a Season 2 Ted Lasso, settled in and focused on deepening relationships and honing the craft, there are areas for growth for you this summer.
Lasso brings heart to his work with his team. Similarly, you are not a camp robot. You are a human. Although trying to remember all the policies, procedures, traditions, guidelines, and ACA standards set out for you during staff training can feel overwhelming, it is important to understand how all these boundaries fit into your playing field. Don’t look at them as “all the things you can’t do”; rather, as factors that shape the field in which your creativity can run wild.
The best coaches, teachers, and camp pros make plans with clear objectives. When planning, consider preparing for 25 percent more activities than you think you’ll need. Then break your plan into parts or a series of “plays,” just like a sports team might do. This creates an assortment of directions you can take your activity depending on the campers’ skills, knowledge, and interests.
Approach every moment of instruction with a plan that includes the teaching that leads to a specific outcome. Many lesson plans start with the outcome first. Complete this sentence: “By the end of this lesson, my campers will be able to . . . ”
When you make your plan, consider that while Lasso knows that skills and drills are important, he also understands that training time provides a critical opportunity to improve the social and emotional muscles that develop a stronger team. He teaches with twofers.
You do the same at camp when you use your time working with campers to achieve both growth in the skills they learn and their emotional growth. Look for activities that teach a new concept and forge connections between campers. For example, you can transform waiting for a turn at archery into an opportunity for your campers to cheer others on and learn about patience.
The basic formula is that as campers learn how to “A,” they will experience the feelings of “B.” They will also learn to name and describe those feelings. For example, when you take your campers to the fishing hole, they learn how to safely bait a hook, affix a bobber, cast the line, use a net to retrieve a fish, and release it. They will also learn to experience and describe patience, practice remaining quiet, and adopt habits of gratitude.
Another twofer could be choosing questions for an icebreaker activity. The prompt, “Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know just by looking at you,” can get campers to share about themselves and build camaraderie. And it can also provide the foundation for a discussion around assumptions, stereotyping, and prejudice.
In this icebreaker activity, while getting to know each other, campers may feel surprised by how their first impressions compare to reality. Simultaneously, they may grow excited to get to know their group mates better.
While building your activity plans, this kind of creativity will also help campers learn, achieve, and connect more during their time with you.
Find Out What They Already Know, and Use Your Playbook
Once you have your playbook or your lesson plan for your activity, incorporate the habit of asking your campers questions about terminology, equipment, and safety guidelines specific to the activity instead of simply lecturing about the info to be learned.
If they have no prior knowledge, ask what they think. Have them hypothesize. This allows you to teach to the current level of your campers, incorporating the terminology they use to describe the activity and explaining how to do something by using words they are familiar with.
Next, consider that no team with a playbook simply hears their coach verbally explain the plays and then goes out and executes them perfectly. Instead, they have a physical playbook with visuals that remind them of how each play works. They also practice these plays, sometimes as a slow-motion demonstration, before trying them in real time.
Think about how you can apply this concept to your arts and crafts activities. Perhaps you can create visuals and post them around the activity area to communicate rules or where certain items are stored. What about a visual that shows exactly what each piece of commonly used equipment in the craft hut looks like, along with its proper name?
Consider offering a slow-motion or step-by-step demonstration of how to fold the paper for an origami project. Think about how you can explain your cleanup process before you do it for real, so when it is time to clean up, you can execute that play with ease.
Is someone in your group an obvious “captain” or peer leader? Perhaps it is a camper who has attended camp for several years or a camper who has a special interest in the day’s craft. You might allow that child to lead the instruction or elements of the lesson that day. As the facilitator, you can add on or correct what they teach while still offering them a chance to practice their own leadership skills.
Limit Lectures to 10 Minutes
When you do need to talk or lecture, keep it to 10-minute chunks. And don’t try to cram 15 minutes of content into 10 minutes by talking faster. People learn best when given space to reflect on what is said.
TED Talks, freely available online videos of talks on “ideas worth spreading” (TED, n.d.), provide excellent models of succinct and impactful messages. They feature concise and well-honed storytelling techniques to draw the learner into a deeper understanding of a topic. Storytelling can be a powerful way to convey a message, especially if the listener is allowed to learn from the speaker’s mistakes. When leaders own their mistakes and invite their followers to learn from, and not repeat, an error, it can build trust in the leader and help the followers avoid the same pitfall. For example: “For three years, I refused to put on a life jacket so I could take the swim test as a camper. I can’t believe I missed out on so many fun waterfront activities during those hot summers!”
Consider including a short story as part of your safety talk to explain why certain rules are in place. If you can, share about a prominent someone who was in this activity previously who has now achieved or progressed a lot even though they started off with very little knowledge.
You will need to practice your safety talk, even if you are going to give it a thousand times this summer. Write down your bullet points and then edit those throughout the summer so the next activity leader has a map to follow.
Madeline Hunter’s elements of effective instruction provide a basic outline for a pre-activity lesson (2004):
- Anticipatory Set: This is a statement that invites the learner to begin thinking about the topic and prepares the brain for learning. TED Talks always have a great opening line. A camp example could be, “By the end of this period you will be able to perform an emergency dismount from a horse.”
- Objective: Share what you want the campers to learn or experience. Remember to include emotional learning along with the skills. Just about any activity can help campers practice respect, putting things back where they found them, cleaning up an area before leaving, and/or sharing. Giving them clear objectives also provides excellent content for offering feedback later on. For example, naming the swimming strokes you want campers to learn and practice will allow you to be specific in your feedback on progress at the end of the camp session. “At the beginning of the summer you weren’t interested in swimming. Now you can perform the elementary backstroke, front crawl, and have deep-end privileges in the pool. Your hard work has paid off!”
- Standards/Expectations: Campers feel safer when parameters are clear. They want to know your group’s code of conduct and the boundaries for activities such as tag and watersports. Set aside time at the beginning of the session to communicate the activity’s ground rules for everyone. This is also an excellent time to invite campers to share what knowledge they already have of the activity. Do this before starting your activity so you aren’t, for example, trying to instruct on good sportsmanship during the soccer game. But if you need to, stop the game and use the teachable moment to reinforce behavior expectations.
- Input and Modeling: Demonstrate how your campers will do the activity. Modeling correct archery stance or helping a child tie their shoe by talking about rabbits and rabbit holes are excellent examples of input and modeling. Throughout your time together, your group will look up to you as a role model and instructor to see what they should be doing and when.
- Check of Understanding: Before going any further, take a moment to check understanding. If the group already knows everything there is to know about making s’mores, your lesson will bore them. If they don’t understand the safe way to use cooking knives, checking on this prior to their use may save you a trip to the infirmary. This check of understanding will also reveal who needs additional instruction and who is ready to go.
- Guided and Independent Practice: Now it is time to be quiet and let the campers try. Guided and independent practice are critical to your campers’ ability to internalize the information. Carefully observe independent practice before giving your campers additional freedom with the activity. Help them set goals based on their practice to reinforce that consistent effort brings results. For example, “Once you can complete a full circuit around the skate park on the flat areas, we’ll give the half pipe a try.”
- Closure: As you approach the end of your activity time, closure reinforces that learning is limitless. Share that you feel all of your campers are capable of improving wherever they put their efforts. When a camper says, “I can’t,” try this response: “You can’t yet, but with my help and if you keep practicing/trying/working on it, you’ll be able to.”
Try to limit yourself to one to three impactful sentences and questions per step to ensure your talk time is more like an engaging and participatory TED Talk and less like a lecture.
Finally add some “plussing” to your lesson plan. That is, add something extra, something special, something unexpected. Will you wear a funny hat? Will you create a song together on the hike? Will you play music on the bus ride? What can you do to infuse the moment with your personality and make it more memorable for everyone?
Whether you model Ted Lasso or your favorite TED Talk, you can be an effective coach, teacher, and camp leader this summer with a little preparation now. Remember Lasso’s lesson; he said, “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field” (Marshall, 2020). Sounds like camp.
Photo courtesy of Camp Zeke, Lakewood, PA.
Hunt, B., Lawrence, B., & Kelly, J. (2020). Ted Lasso. Apple TV.
Hunter, M. (2004). Mastery teaching: Increasing instructional effectiveness in elementary and secondary schools, Updated Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Marshall, T. (Director). (2020, August 14). Trent Crimm: The Independent (Season 1, Episode 3) [TV series episode]. In B. Goldstein (Executive Producer) Ted Lasso. Warner Bros.
Stephanie “Ruby” Compton is a cohost on the Camp Code podcast and can be reached at email@example.com.
John Beitner is the American Camp Association’s western region director.